'Tosa Raceway' Has Run Its Last Lap
Man who ran laps around north side subdivision in souped-up car is leaving Tosa for the aerospace industry.
Shawn Monaghan lives on Vienna Avenue in a very quiet neighborhood on Wauwatosa's north side.
So when, a couple of weeks ago, he heard a very loud, throaty roar outside – the unmistakeable sound of an unmuffled, high-revving, high-performance engine – he grabbed his camera.
What appeared to a Formula 1-type race car was doing loud laps around the curves and corners of the subdivison, and burning down its straightaways.
"Hiram" was up to something, and Monaghan intended to capture it.
Monaghan, a professional digital media producer, adopted an easy nonchalance and a bit of feigned, insouciant arrogance. In his impromptu video, he claims that, "it just so happens that my neighborhood has an Indy car that cruises by on a regular basis."
And as if on cue – Monaghan swears it was all completely unplanned – the car appears and shrieks around a triangular traffic island across from his house.
"This is Tosa," Monaghan intones. "This is how we roll in Tosa."
In truth, the "Tosa Raceway" show was not a regular occurrence, and – to Monaghan's disappointment, if not some of his neighbors' – it won't be happening again anytime soon.
The driver is off to greener pastures.
You don't ticket Mario Andretti
Hiram Willis was pulled over by a Wauwatosa police officer moments after Monaghan stopped shooting the accompanying video. Willis said the officer told him, "You know, you're eligible for about eight traffic tickets for what you're doing."
Willis escaped any citations, though, after he explained what he was up to, to an at-first incredulous and then admiring officer.
Willis, a master race car builder and mechanic, told the patrolman that he was performing some critical tests. The car, a vintage make, belongs to a client who entrusted him to tune it for a race that coming weekend.
This car had to both run perfectly and look impeccable at Elkhart Lake's Road America raceway.
"I'm pretty much a perfectionist," Willis said, "and I had to know it was perfect. I couldn't take the chance on getting it over there and having anything less than optimum and not have time to make it right.
"I had to take it out and see for myself."
The car Willis was driving was anything but an Indy car, he said, although there is a resemblance in all but scale.
"This is a D-class racer, a 1972 McCann," he said. "It only has a 1-liter engine. It's really a go-cart on steroids."
Willis said the little car would be eaten alive on an Indy oval – but yeah, it would look pretty fast on a suburban street.
No parts available for these beauties
"I've been building and working on race cars for about 10 years," Willis said. "It's a pretty unique community.
"We deal in very tight tolerances and limits."
Willis has criss-crossed the country dozens of times, working or consulting for teams at all levels in the racing industry.
His real love, though, is working on vintage racers, keeping aging thoroughbreds in peak form even long after their first-line competitive days are over.
The challenges, he says, are greater because in so many cases the systems were unique and have to be rethought, reimagined. Only a few of each model were ever built. It's not like parts are available.
The owners of vintage racers are well-heeled and demanding, yet few of them are capable racing-grade mechanics in their own right, Willis said. They will pay for perfection, and that's where he comes in.
Father's love of cars rubs off
Willis said he was an indifferent student growing up in a tough northwest side Milwaukee neighborhood and attending Milwaukee Public Schools.
His touchstone was his father, a car nut who loved classic designs and could talk endlessly about them.
Willis took a job in a garage after high school, not even knowing how much he already had absorbed from his father about car culture. What he hadn't learned in school he learned rapidly from experience, and then, what experience couldn't teach him, he reached out and taught himself.
"I couldn't get enough of it," Willis said. "I just had to know everything, take everything down to its finest point.
"From then on, that was it. No girlfriends, just race cars."
Before very long, Willis was in demand locally from aficiondos of high-performance cars, and not long after that, nationally.
To infinity and beyond
However, after 10 years of running across-country to troubleshoot a transmission, examine an exhaust system or babysit a turbo boost, Willis recently decided to seek a little more stability in his life, without giving up the challenges.
He's accepted a job in Florida with Boeing.
He'll be leaving Wauwatosa this month to lend his skills to the nation's largest aerospace company, engineering designs that could someday return man to the moon.
"Auto racing and aerospace," Willis said. "People don't realize how close they are, pushing those tolerances, testing those limits.
"Cars have been my love and my passion. But I wanted my standards to be aerospace standards."
So, Willis won't be running like a renegade through streets of Tosa anymore.
But thanks to Monaghan, he'll live on in local lore as the past, fast master of "Tosa Raceway."